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We Defend Healthcare Providers Nationwide in Audits & Investigations

United Concordia Dental and its SIU are Actively Auditing Dentists Around the Country.

September 15, 2020 by  
Filed under Dental Audits & Compliance

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DOJ is aggressively prosecuting instances of COVID-19 fraud and related wrongdoing.(September 15, 2020):  There are approximately 1.4 million active duty service members in our country.  These active duty service members have approximately 1.9 million dependents.  Our military also consists of almost a million reserve and national guard participants.  Depending on an individual’s status, these active duty service members, their dependents, and reservists are likely eligible to participate in a dental plan administered by United Concordia Dental.  Despite the fact that many dental practices have been decimated due to COVID-19, United Concordia and its Special Investigations Unit (SIU) have continued to move forward with ongoing dental claims audits AND initiate new investigations of suspected instances of improper billing and fraud.   United Concordia’s SIU is responsible for detecting fraud and improper coding or billing practices in the government’s Active Duty Dental Program[1] and in the TRICARE Dental Program.[2]  This article examines recent investigations and prosecutions of dentists and their practices for the submission of improper dental claims to United Concordia for coverage and payment.  We will also discuss a number of the steps you can take to reduce your level of risk if your dental claims are audited by United Concordia Dental and its SIU.

I.  How are United Concordia Dental Claims Audits and Investigations Generated?

The SIU at United Concordia Dental is responsible for coordinating dental fraud investigations with both state and federal law enforcement agencies. Notably, United Concordia Dental’s Utilization Review Department has also taken an active role in the identification and audit of aberrant billing patterns.  Collectively, these units have capitalized on their ability to ferret out fraudulent billing and coding conduct using data mining.  Several of the primary referral sources relied on by United Concordia’s SIU and its Utilization Review Department are set out below:

Data mining. United Concordia Dental auditors and investigators rely heavily on their ability to compile and analyze historical utilization, coding and billing data to identify potential improper conduct.  While data mining and analytics may not be able to definitively prove that a dentist is defrauding a payor, it can be used an effective audit targeting tool by the payor.  Once an outlying dentist is identified, the payor can focus its audit and investigative resources on specific issues and claims.

Patient complaints. When a patient is treated by a dentist, an Explanation of Benefits (EOB) is ultimately generated and sent to the attention of the subscriber (the individual responsible for coverage by the health plan).  An EOB is intended to describe the dental services provided and indicate whether or not the service qualifies for coverage and payment.  Unfortunately, EOB’s are often cryptic and can cause significant confusion when reviewed by a subscriber. This can result in complaints filed with a payor’s SIU or a state / federal law enforcement agency.

Anonymous complaints. United Concordia Dental has established an effective SIU Fraud Hotline that can be used by a complainant to file a complaint.  A person registering a complaint with the SIU can choose to identify himself / herself OR may remain anonymous.  Complaints may be submitted through the SIU Fraud Hotline[3] by e-mail, fax or phone.  Individuals filing anonymous complaints have included patients, current or past employees, competitors and others who believe that he or she has knowledge of wrongdoing.

Overpayment data. This may be based on a specific dentist’s “error rate” or the overall error rate calculated for a dental practice. After considering a dentist’s history of repeated overpayments, United Concordia may decide to initiate an audit or investigation.

State dental licensing boards. State Dental Boards taking an adverse action against a licensed dental professional mat be required by law to report the adverse action to the National Practitioner Databank (NPDB).  When this occurs, notice of the adverse action will be accessible United Concordia Dental and other payors.  Depending on the nature of the allegations, this may spur the initiation of an audit or investigation by the payor.

Industry reports and findings of improper conduct.Dental payor SIUs and utilization staff are constantly on the lookout for evidence of improper dental billing and coding conduct and possibly fraudulent business practices. To the extent that trends are identified, this information is often shared among and between both private sector SIU personnel and their state and federal law enforcement counterparts.

II.  Types of Actions that May be Taken in the Event that Improper Dental Conduct is Identified:

Regardless of the source, if a fraud referral against your dental practice is made, United Concordia’s SIU and / or its Utilization Review Department will conduct an assessment of the allegations and determining whether further review and investigation is warranted.

Administrative RemediesIf wrongful conduct has been alleged, there are a number of administrative actions that United Concordia may choose to take against your dental practice.  These include:

  • Initiation of a postpayment audit of a dentist’s claims.
  • Placement of a dental provider’s claims on prepayment review.
  • A dentist’s billing privileges may be suspended by a payor.
  • Termination of dental provider’s participation in United Concordia’s program.

Civil Remedies To the extent that United Concordia Dental has been improperly billed, the payor may be able to pursue the following civil remedies:

  • Breach of contract (under state law).
  • Civil fraud (under state law).
  • Unjust enrichment (under state law).
  • Payment under mistake of fact (under state law).
  • Violations of the federal Civil False Claims Act (31 U.S.C. 3729).

Criminal Remedies.   While United Concordia Dental may not independently initiate a criminal action, it may make a referral to state and federal law enforcement authorities for possible prosecution.  Focusing on federal criminal prosecutions, the following statutory violations have commonly been alleged in prosecutions of dental fraud:

  • Prohibition Against Kickbacks (Anti-Kickback Statute)(42 U.S.C. § 1320a–7b(b)).
  • False or Fraudulent Claims (18 U.S.C. § 287). 
  • Conspiracy (18 U.S.C. § 371). 
  • Fraudulent Identification of Documents (18 U.S.C. § 1028). 
  • Mail, Wire, Radio and Television Fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1341, 1343). 
  • Health Care Fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1347). 
  • Obstruction of a Criminal Investigation into Health Care Offenses (18 U.S.C. § 1518). 

III.  Examples of Cases Prosecuted Against Dentists in Connection with Fraudulent United Concordia Dental Claims:

As a review of the payor’s efforts will show, the fraud identification and deterrence activities of United Concordia’s SIU and Utilization Review Department have been quite effective in a number of states.  Case examples of audits and investigations handled in Pennsylvania and California are set out below:

Pennsylvania.  Misrepresentation of a non-covered service.  In this case, the payor’s SIU received a referral from United Concordia Dental’s Utilization Review Department after a Beaver County dentist was identified as having a history of performing many more anterior restorations than the payor would normally expect to see when compared to his peers.  As a result, an audit of 30 patient dental records was conducted.  Upon review, the payor’s Dental Director found that the dentist had billed for multiple anterior restorations that were not documented in the patient dental records.  When asked about this inconsistency, the dentist admitted that when a patient needed a bridge, he knew that the payor wasn’t likely to cover the work so he would list the dental service provided as an anterior restoration.  Based on the dentist’s admission, a referral to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was made and the dentist was prosecuted for fraud.  The dentist ultimately plead guilty to one count of health care fraud and agreed to repay $94,098.89 to United Concordia.

Pennsylvania.  (1) Misrepresentation of a non-covered service, (2) Billing for dental services not rendered.  In this Pennsylvania case, a fraud investigator for United Concordia Dental made a referral to the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office after identifying aberrant claims that appeared to be being billed to the payor.  When conducting an investigation into the dentist’s billing practices, the dentist allegedly admitted to improperly billing the payor, stating:

“Some of the patients asked me not to charge their copays, because their previous dentists didn’t charge it. . . I couldn’t say no. Instead of charging copays, I did false claims to cover their copays. I knew it was wrong, but I couldn’t ask for the copays.”

A detective interviewing the dentist further report that the defendant admitted that he charged United Concordia for root canal procedures (that were not performed) in order to cover the costs of other dental services that did not qualify for coverage.

Pennsylvania.  Billing for medically unnecessary dental services.  In yet another Pennsylvania case, a dentist was alleged to have submitted fraudulent dental claims to the Active Duty Family Member Dental Plan, a dental plan administered by United Concordia, under a contract with TRICARE.   Notably, the government also alleged that the defendant dentist had improperly waived beneficiaries’ co-payments.  Ultimately, the dentist plead guilty and was sentenced to one year in prison.  As part of a separate civil settlement, the dentist agreed to pay restitution of more than $527,000 to the dental payor.  Finally, the dentist also agreed to be permanently debarred from serving as a Department of Defense health care provider.

Pennsylvania.  Billing for dental services without a valid license.  In this case, an Alleghany County dentist was arrested after it was alleged that he had continued to practice dentistry with a suspension license. While his license was suspended, the dentist alleged to have continued to see patients and had billed United Concordia for dental services rendered. The state Attorney General’s Office charged with the dentist with two counts of insurance fraud.

California.  Billing for dental services not rendered.  In this case, a Los Angeles dentist plead guilty to one count of health care fraud in connection with his fraudulent billing of crowns and fillings that were not provided to patients.  Overall, the government alleged that the defendant improperly billing approximately $3.8 million in false and fraudulent claims to United Concordia, Denti-Cal (California’s Medicaid program), MetLife, Anthem, Cigna, Delta Dental, United Healthcare and other dental payors.  The government claimed that the defendant received more than $1.4 million in connection with these wrongful dental claims.  In addition to paying restitution to the affected dental payors, the defendant dentist was sentenced to more than three years in prison.

IV.  Responding to an Audit and Investigation of Your United Concordia Dental Claims:

Unfortunately, there is a significant chance that if your dental claims are audited, a reviewer will allege that your dental records are incomplete or incorrect.  Therefore, if you or your practice is subject to an audit or investigation, it is important that you engage legal representation as soon as possible.

Retain experienced health law counselDon’t wait until an overpayment has been assessed, it is in your best interests to bring in experienced legal counsel when you first receive notice of an audit or investigation.  Remember, everything you say is evidence!

Determine the focus of a government investigation of your dental claims and business practices. Is the focus of the current enforcement action administrative, civil or criminal?  criminal, civil or administrative?  If the focus is criminal, is the dentist considered a target, subject or witness?

Conduct a privileged internal investigation of your dental claims and business practices. You need to try and get ahead of the government’s investigation.  Determine the likely extent of any liability.  Be careful to ensure that the internal review is privileged?

Robert W. LilesRobert W. Liles serves as Managing Partner at the health law firm, Liles Parker, Attorneys and Counselors at Law.  Liles Parker attorneys represent dentists and dental practices around the country in connection SIU private payor and state Medicaid audits and investigations.  Are your dental claims currently being audited or under investigation?  We can help.  For a free initial consultation regarding your situation, call Robert at: 1 (800) 475-1906.

[1] Generally speaking, the Active Duty Dental Program covers active duty service members and members of the national guard.

[2] The TRICARE Dental Program is a voluntary dental plan that is available to family members of an active duty service member and family members of a member of the national guard.

[3] A copy of United Concordia’s “SIU Fraud Hotline” form can be found at the following link: https://www.unitedconcordia.com/docs/fraudcomplaintform.pdf

SIU Dental Audit Reviews by DentaQuest, Delta Dental and Cigna Can Ultimately Lead to Criminal Prosecution and Imprisonment.  Are Your Dental Office’s Medical Necessity, Documentation, Coding and Billing Practices Compliant?

October 16, 2019 by  
Filed under Dental Audits & Compliance

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Dental Claims Audits are Ongoing(October 16, 2019):  A Federal District Court Judge recently sentenced a Murfreesboro, TN dentist to prison and ordered that he pay restitution to TennCare (Tennessee’s Medicaid program).  Regrettably, the types of improper billing practices cited by the government in the criminal Information filed against the defendant dentist aren’t that uncommon.  This recent prosecution serves as an excellent case study of why it is essential that dentists and dental practices take steps to ensure that their medical necessity, documentation, coding and billing practices fully comply with applicable regulatory requirements and contractual obligations.  In addition to reviewing the types of improper conduct that led to the government’s criminal pursuit of the defendants in this case, this article examines how a Special Investigations Unit dental audit (SIU dental audit) by auditors and investigators at DentQuest, Delta Dental and Cigna can ultimately lead to a referral to State or Federal law enforcement officials.  Once a referral is made, you and your dental practice may be subject to criminal investigation and prosecution.

I.  SIU Dental Audit Reviews by DentaQuest, Delta Dental and Cigna Can Result in a Referral to State or Federal Law Enforcement Officials:

In this case, a Tennessee licensed dentist reportedly owned a dental practice with three locations in Murfreesboro, TN and a single location in Lebanon, TN.   The dental practice treated patients that were covered by private-payor dental plans and Medicaid.  Payors billed by the dental practice included, but were not necessarily limited to:  DentaQuest (DentaQuest served as the administrator to the TennCare program – Tennessee’s Medicaid program), Delta Dental and Cigna.[1]  Starting in late 2014, a number of payors initiated an SIU dental audit of the defendant’s multi-location dental practice.  These included:

December 2014. DentaQuest SIU Dental Audit.   In late 2014, DentaQuest conducted an audit of select 2013 and 2014 claims submitted to the Medicaid payor plan by the practice.  After reviewing the claims, DentiQuest alleged that the practice claiming was:

    • Billing for crowns at an unusually high rate; and
    • Impermissibly billing DentaQuest for services provided by non-credentialed dentists.

Importantly, the defendant was allegedly advised of these allegations both during and after the DentaQuest audit.

December 2016 Delta SIU Dental Audit.  Delta Dental conducted an audit of 2015 and 2016 claims submitted to the payor for coverage and payment. At the conclusion of the dental claims audit, Delta Dental alleged that the dental practice:

    • Billed for dental services during the period January 2015 through May 2016 that were allegedly not provided.

Both during and after the Delta Dental audit, the defendant dentist and his office manager were allegedly advised of the allegation that the practice had billed the payor for services that were not provided.

August 2016 Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Probe.  In August 2016, the defendant dentist and his office manager reportedly learned that the Tennessee Board of Investigation had initiated an investigation of the dental practice’s billing conduct.  Despite the fact that the defendants supposedly learned of the State’s ongoing investigation, they allegedly:

    • Directed employees to continue to bill for work that had not been performed.

As the summary findings of these dental claims audits reflect, the defendant dentist and the practice administrator were repeatedly advised by dental plan sponsors that a number of medical necessity, coding and documentation deficiencies had been identified.  Despite the fact that the defendants were allegedly put on actual notice of these improper coding and billing practices, the practice appears not to have taken remedial steps to correct the conduct.

II.  Overview of the Fraudulent Dental Billing Conduct Alleged by the Government:

The criminal Information filed against the defendant dentist outlines a number of documentation and billing practices that allegedly resulted in the submission of false and fraudulent dental claims to the DentaQuest (TennCare Medicaid), Delta Dental and Cigna payor plans. Not surprisingly, the types of improper conduct that the government chose to criminally prosecute are far from uncommon.  In fact, many of the dental audits we have defended on behalf of dental practices around the country have involved at least one of the documentation, coding and / or billing problems that ultimately led to the criminal referral in this case.  As both government and private payor SIU dental audit representatives will readily attest, when it comes to dental claims fraud, the old adage “. . . there is nothing new under the sun” certainly applies.[2] The types of improper conduct alleged by the government are outlined below:

Summary of Allegation

Conduct Cited by the Government

Billing for Services Not Rendered.The government alleged that the defendants submitted false and fraudulent claims to health care benefit programs for dental work that had not been completed.
Falsifying Dates of Service.  The government alleged that the defendants falsified the dates of service to make it appear as though the dental service was rendered within the timeframe required by a health care benefit program or after preauthorization was obtained from a health care benefit program so that the dental claims would be paid.
Falsifying the Identity of the Individual Who Rendered the Dental Services.The government alleged that the defendants falsified claims to make it appear as though the services had been rendered by a dentist who was credentialed to treat patients at a particular practice location, when in fact the services had been provided by a non-credentialed dentist or at a different practice location.[3]
Falsifying Dental Records.The government alleged that the defendants falsified supporting documentation and records, such as x-rays, in order to have the claims paid.
Engaging in Upcoding.The government alleged that the defendants added false language to the claim narratives to make it appear as though the practice had provided more expensive services than the services that were actually provided.
Obstruction.The government alleged that the defendants falsified took steps to conceal the fraud, including:  (1) Disciplining or firing employees who asked questions about whether the billing practices were correct or legal, (2) Instructing practice employees to tell patients and representatives from insurance companies that if the practice had billed for work that had not been done, it was simply a billing error and would be corrected, when, in fact, it was the routine practice of the organization.
False Statements / Obstruction.The government alleged that the defendants falsified took steps to make it appear as though the practice administrator was solely responsible for the fraudulent billing practices at the practice and that the defendant dentist was supposedly unaware of the fraudulent billing practices, when in fact, both individuals knew about the conduct and caused the practice to submit false and fraudulent claims.

 III.  Criminal Charges Brought Against the Defendant Dentist and Disposition of the Case:

The defendant dentist in this case entered into a plea bargain with the Federal government and agreed to waive his right to an Indictment.  As the pleadings in this case reflect, in November 2018, the defendant dentist was charged in a criminal Information with one count of criminal conspiracy under 18 USC § 1349.[4]   In June 2019, the defendant dentist was sentenced to almost three years in prison and ordered to pay almost one million dollars in restitution to the TennCare Medicaid program.[5]

How can you and your dental practice avoid engaging in the types of improper conduct identified by the government in this case? As a first step, your practice needs to develop, implement and adhere to the both the letter and the spirit of an effective compliance program.  An overview of the compliance program process is set out below.

IV.  Every Dental Practice Must Develop and Implement an Effective Compliance Program:

As you will recall, the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), Office of Inspector General (OIG), issued voluntary Compliance Guidance for Individual and Small Group Physician Practices” almost 20 years ago, in 2000.[6]  As the seven element compliance guidance reflects, the term “physician” is defined to include “a doctor of dental surgery or dental medicine.” [7] With the passage of the Affordable Care Act[8]  in 2010, dental practices and other health care providers participating in Federal health benefits programs were now required to establish a compliance program as a condition of their enrollment in the Medicare, Medicaid, and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) payor plans.  Under § 6401(b)(5) of the statute:

“Subtitle E—Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP Program Integrity Provisions

SEC. 6401. PROVIDER SCREENING AND OTHER ENROLLMENT REQUIREMENTS UNDER MEDICARE, MEDICAID, AND CHIP.

Sec. 6401(a)(7):  COMPLIANCE PROGRAMS.—On or after the date of implementation determined by the Secretary under subparagraph (C), a provider of medical or other items or services or supplier within a particular industry sector or category shall, as a condition of enrollment in the program under this title [Medicare], title XIX [Medicaid], or title XXI [CHIP], establish a compliance program that contains the core elements established under subparagraph (B) with respect to that provider or supplier and industry or category.

. . . .

Sec. 6401(b)(5):  COMPLIANCE PROGRAMS.—The State requires providers and suppliers under the State plan or under a waiver of the plan to establish, in accordance with the requirements of section 1866(j)(7), a compliance program that contains the core elements established under subparagraph (B) of that section 1866(j)(7) for providers or suppliers within a particular industry or category.”  (emphasis added).

From a practical standpoint, dental practices have been slow to make the transition from a “voluntary” to a “mandatory” approach towards compliance. In January 2017, the OIG and compliance professionals of the Health Care Compliance Association (HCCA) met and made modifications to the original seven elements identified in the 2000 compliance program guidance.  The seven elements were modified to include the following:

  1. Standards, Policies, and Procedures.
  2. Compliance Program Administration.
  3. Screening and Evaluation of Employees, Physicians, Vendors and other Agents. 
  4. Communication, Education, and Training on Compliance Issues. 
  5. Monitoring, Auditing, and Internal Reporting Systems. 
  6. Discipline for Non?Compliance.
  7. Investigations and Remedial Measures.[9]

 If the defendants had properly developed, implemented and diligently worked to follow an effective dental practice compliance program, it is highly unlikely that the deficiencies identified by the government would have occurred (assuming, of course, that the defendants would have worked to comply with applicable statutory and regulatory requirements).

V.  The Possible Impact of an SIU Dental Audit on Your Dental Practice:

Assuming that your dental practice does not participate in the Medicare program[10] (but does participate in the Medicaid program), a wide variety of audit entities may show up at your door to perform an unannounced audit or send you a written notice of audit.  Audit entities that may initiate a review of your dental claims include:

Your Dental Practice May be Audits by Medicaid UPICs, Medicaid RACs, State Medicaid Fraud Control Units (MFCUs) and Private Payor Special Investigation Units (SIUs).

It is important to keep in mind that many of these audit entities have overlapping areas of responsibility.  As a result, it is entirely possible that one audit entity (for instance, a Unified Program Integrity Contractor (UPIC)) may decide to look at your 2015 Medicaid dental claims, while a completely different entity (such as Medicaid Recovery Audit Contractor (Medicaid RAC)) could audit your 2016 Medicaid dental claims.  For instance:

  • UPIC / Medicaid RAC Audits. On the government side, your dental practice’s Medicaid claims may be audited by a UPIC or a Medicaid RAC working for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

 

  • State MFCU Audits. Since the Medicaid program is jointly funded by the Federal and State governments, your Medicaid claims may also be audited by your State’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU).

 

  • Audits by a Private Company Administrator of the Medicaid Program. If a private payor plan (such as DentaQuest) is serving as the administrator of the State Medicaid program, the private payor Special Investigations Unit (SIU) may initiate an audit of your Medicaid claims

 

  • Private Payor Audits. To the extent that your dental practice is a participating provider in one or more private dental payor plans, each of these private payor plans has an in-house SIU that is tasked with identifying and taking appropriate administrative action against providers and suppliers engaged in improper conduct. If a SIU identifies conduct that it believes may constitute fraud, it may choose to make a referral to law enforcement for further investigation and possible criminal prosecution.

In the case discussed above, the Special Investigation Units (SIU) of DentQuest, Delta Dental and Cigna initiated audits of the dental practice’s claims.   A private payor’s SIU is typically comprised of health care auditors and investigators, many of whom previously worked for Federal or State law enforcement agencies.  If evidence of wrongdoing is found by the SIU, the private payor may decide to take an administrative action, such as place a dental provider on prepayment review or terminate a dental provider from their payor program.  To the extent that an alleged overpayment is identified by the SIU, it may send a demand letter to a dental provider.  This ultimately could lead to the initiation of a collection action in civil court by the private payor.  In a worst case scenario, if an SIU agent identifies evidence of actual fraud (as opposed to conduct that is indicative of a mistake, error or an accident), the unit may choose to make a referral to the government for further investigation and possible criminal prosecution.

As set out in the background discussion (Section I), the dental practice in the instant case underwent several audits over a fairly short period of time.  The audits conducted included reviews by DentaQuest (as the administrator for TennCare’s Medicaid dental program), Delta Dental and Cigna.  The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation subsequently initiated its own investigation of the dental office’s billing practices.  After concluding their reviews, a criminal referral was made to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.  Federal prosecutors then initiated criminal proceedings against the dentist practice owner and the practice administrator.

VI.  Responding to a DentaQuest Audit, Delta Dental Audit or Cigna Audit of Your Dental Claims:

The government does not expect you to be perfect with respect to your documentation, coding and billing practices.  Nevertheless, the government does expect you to take reasonable steps to prevent the occurrence of improper billing practices. The development and implementation of an effective compliance program is an integral part of your dental practice’s program integrity efforts.  Unfortunately, even if you diligently work to stay within the four corners of the law, mistakes will still be made and your dental claims will still be subject to audit by a State Medicaid program, DentaQuest, Delta Dental, Cigna and other dental payors.  How should you respond if you are audited by a government or private payor?

  • Call an Experienced Health Lawyer for Assistance. Effectively responding to a government or private payor audit of your dental claims is essential if you hope to reduce the possible adverse effects of an audit.  An experienced health lawyer can walk you through the process and interact directly with the payor to seek an extension of the deadline to submit dental records and advise you on the documentation, coding and billing requirements that are required by a given payor.  Notably, the Liles Parker attorneys who would represent you and your practice in a dental audit are both experienced health lawyers AND have achieved certification as Certified Medical Reimbursement Specialists (CMRSs) by the American Medical Billing Association (AMBA) and / or Certified Professional Coders (CPCs) by the American Academy of Professional Coders.

 

  • Don’t ignore a SIU dental audit of your claims. It has been our experience that approximately 20% of all dental audit requests are either ignored by a dental practice or were set aside for later review and then got lost in the ever-growing pile of administrative correspondence received by a dental practice.  Don’t allow this to happen.  Most payors will give a dental practice a deadline to submit any responsive, supporting dental records.  This submission deadline can be as little as a few days to as much as 30 days.  If the payor does not receive the requested records by the deadline, it will automatically deny the dental claims.

 

  • Are there indications that the government or private payor intends to try and extrapolate damages? If a payor describes the group of dental medical records requested as a “statistically relevant sample” or uses similar descriptive terminology, call your legal counsel.  While not typically seen in private payor audits, we have seen numerous instances where a private payor has attempted to extrapolate any damages identified in connection with their audit.  Depending on applicable law and the terms of your contract with the payor, your legal counsel may be able to get the extrapolation dismissed.  If the payor does, in fact, have the authority to extrapolate damages, Liles Parker attorneys will often work with a statistical expert to conduct a preliminary assessment of whether or not the sample selected is, in fact, a sample that is representative of the universe of dental claims at issue.

 

  • Assemble the dental records requested. Take the time to assess the specific claims at issue and the supporting documentation in each file.  Are there additional places (e.g., files in storage) where additional supporting documentation may be kept?  If the documentation appears to be incomplete, you may be able to supplement the records with an affidavit. Are there any referring or ancillary providers that might have supporting documentation (e.g., referrals or orders from another dental professional, laboratory or X-ray test result)?

 

  • Retain duplicates of any information that you submit to the SIU dental auditor. Should you choose to go it alone and not be represented by legal counsel, you need to make sure that you secure a complete copy of the documentation sent to the payor.  It should be kept separate from your working files.  Should an appeal prove necessary, you will need to know the information on which the payor based its denial decision.

 

  • Don’t turn an administrative or civil audit into a criminal case. Dental records, progress notes, x-rays and other documents must be signed and dated by the health care provider at the time the services are rendered or conducted.  In conducting your review, did you find that the claims documentation is legible and complete?  If not, change your practices now.  Wholesale efforts to go back and supplement incomplete documentation may constitute obstruction of justice if incorrectly handled.  Never make changes to a patient’s documentation or dental records without first discussing the issues presented with legal counsel so that you can ensure that a third party reviewing the updated records will not be misled as to the nature of the changes or revisions AND when the changes or revisions were made.  In other words, your records must accurately show when changes, corrections or additions were made to the patient’s dental records.  Late entries to a record must be dated as such.  More than likely, government and private payor auditors will give very little (if any) credit to late entries or supplemental records unless the service being supplemental was recently performed.   The falsification of information in a patient’s dental record (or in other records presented to the government, its agents or private payor auditors) can constitute a criminal violation and could lead to much bigger troubles for you and your dental practice than a mere overpayment.

Private payor SIUs are an important source of referrals for State and Federal prosecutors. Your compliance with a payor’s medical necessity, documentation, coding and billing requirements will be carefully reviewed by a SIU if your dental claims are subjected to an audit by the payor’s anti-fraud unit.  If evidence of criminal fraud is identified, there is real possibility that your conduct will be referred to the government for further investigation and possible prosecution.  Your adoption and implementation of an effective compliance program will greatly reduce your level of risk.  Liles Parker attorneys have extensive experience working with dental practices around the country to develop and implement an effective compliance program.  Part of this process includes the performance of a “GAP Analysis” to determine whether the practices current practices are consistent with applicable regulatory and contractual requirements.  If deficiencies are identified, remedial steps can then be taken to bring the practice back into compliance.

Robert W. Liles Healthcare LawyerIs your dental practice being audited by DentaQuest, Delta Dental or Cigna?  If so, give us a call.  We can help.  A number of Liles Parker attorneys are experienced defending dental practices in Medicaid and private payor audits.  Moreover, these attorneys are both experienced health lawyers AND Certified Professional Coders (CPCs).  For a free consultation, please give us a call:  1 (800) 475-1906.

 

[1] Each of these plans qualify as “health care benefit programs” as defined by 18 USC § 24(b).

[2] Ecclesiastes 1:9 reads, in part “What has been is what will be, and what has been done will be done again. There is nothing new under the sun.”

[3] Are Your Providers Properly Credentialed with Each Payor?  How long does it take for the payor to credential a new dentist?  Once a new dentist is approved, will the payor cover dental claims back to the submission date of credentialing package?   We are seeing a huge rise in the number of overpayments based on failure to credential.  A detailed discussion of this credentialing issue is discussed in an article entitled: The Dangers of Billing Payors for the Services of a Non-Credentialed Dentist / Non-Participating Dentist.”

[4] Under the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, a criminal defendant in a Federal case has a constitutional right to be indicted by a Grand Jury.  An Information is typically used by the government when a defendant voluntarily pleads guilty (typically after entering into plea bargain negotiations with the government).

[5] Notably, the defendant practice administrator has not entered a guilty plea and is scheduled to be tried in December 2019.

[6] 65 Fed. Reg. 59434. (October 5, 2000).

[7] 65 Fed. Reg. 59434, 59435.

[8] A copy of the Affordable Care Act can be found at the following link:  https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/PLAW-111publ148/pdf/PLAW-111publ148.pdf

[9]See Measuring Compliance Program Effectiveness – A Resource Guide.” 

[10] Generally speaking, traditional Medicare does not cover most routine dental care procedures, such as cleanings, fillings, tooth extractions, dentures, or other common dental procedures. Under certain circumstances, Medicare Part A may cover dental services that are needed in connection with the provision of a covered Part A service (e.g. an operation your jaw).  Additionally, some Medicare Advantage are now starting to cover a limited scope of routine dental procedures.

Aetna’s SIU is Actively Auditing Dental Claims. Are Your Dental Services Compliant with Applicable Regulatory and Contractual Requirements?

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Dental Claims(January 3, 2019):  Slowly but surely, the percentage of adults and children with dental insurance coverage benefits has gradually climbed.  These increases have been driven, at least in part, by several factors.  First, despite the fact that traditional Medicare does not cover routine dental services, a number of Medicare Advantage plans are now offering coverage for routine dental procedures such as cleanings and fillings.  Second, approximately 37 states have expanded their Medicaid plan’s eligibility requirements.  Notably, 25 of these states now provide at least limited dental benefits for adult Medicaid beneficiaries.[1] Finally, a growing number of employers are now offering supplemental dental policies at affordable prices for their staff and families. Collectively, the American Dental Association’s (ADA’s) Health Policy Institute has estimated that approximately 89.7% of children and 72.5% of adults currently have some level of dental benefits coverage.[2]

Dental Claims

Aetna is one of the largest insurance payors currently offering dental service plans. In fact, more than 12.7 million individuals now have coverage for dental services through Aetna.[3]  The payor has developed dental benefits packages that are offered by a number of Medicare Advantage, Medicaid and private plans around the country. Not surprisingly, Aetna’s “Special Investigations Unit” (SIU) has been aggressively working to identify and address suspected instances of dental improper billing practices, fraud and abuse.  The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of Aetna’s dental claims program integrity auditing practices and discuss steps that your dental practice can take to reduce its level of risk and hopefully avoid the imposition of a significant overpayment by the payor.

I. Aetna SIU Dental Enforcement Activities:

Aetna employs a core team of investigators to review and assess questionable dental claims billed to one or more of their programs.  In addition to cases involving allegations of improper billing, the SIU is also responsible for investigating possible instances of health care fraud and abuse.  From a business standpoint, Aetna’s SIU has proven to be financially prudent.  Aetna’s SIU claims that for every dollar spent on enforcement, it recovered and / or saved the payor fifteen dollars.  As you can imagine, a return on investment of 15 to 1 provides significant motivation for Aetna to further expand its SIU’s investigation efforts.

From a practical standpoint, Aetna’s enforcement authorities are limited to taking administrative action against a dental provider when wrongdoing has been identified.  This may include the assessment of an overpayment and / or termination from one or more of Aetna’s participating provider programs.  In some instances, Aetna may also report a dental provider to the “National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB).” [4]  In addition to dental professionals having the ability to “self-query,” it is important to remember that when a dentist is reported to the NPDB, the information is also made available to:

  • Hospitals.
  • Health Care Entities with Formal Peer Review Functions.
  • Health Plans.
  • Professional Societies with Formal Peer Review Functions.
  • Quality Improvement Organizations.
  • State Licensing and Certification Authorities State Law Enforcement Agencies.
  • State Medicaid Fraud Control Units.
  • State Agencies Administering or Supervising the Administration of a State Health Care Program.
  • Agencies Administering Federal Health Care Programs, Including Private Entities Administering Such Programs Under Contract.
  • Federal Licensing or Certification Agencies.
  • Federal Law Enforcement Officials or Agencies.

Unfortunately, after being reported to the NPDB, many dentists and other health care providers have suffered the proverbial “death by a thousand cuts.”  After Aetna or another payor takes a reportable adverse action against you and files the report with the NPDB, it is quite common for other payors to initiate their own reviews of your dental practices and claims.  This often results in additional adverse actions being pursued by other payor networks.  Notably, most payor participation agreements include a requirement that you notify them with 30 – 60 days (depending on the payor) of any adverse action taken against you or your license.  In recent years, the mere failure to file this report in a timely fashion has been cited as justification by some payors for terminating a provider’s participation in their network.

II. Examples of Criminal Cases Brought Against Dentists in Connection with Fraudulent Aetna Claims:

It is important to keep in mind that in addition to offering private dental insurance products, the company has greatly expanded its Medicare Advantage, Medicaid and Medicaid Advantage programs footprint.  Additionally, the payor offers a number of dental coverage programs through the Federal Employee Health Benefits Programs (FEHBP).  These relationships have further strengthened Aetna’s close working relationship with Federal and State prosecutors, investigators, auditors and agents around the country.  Why does this matter?  It is important to keep in mind that Aetna’s SIU will not hesitate to refer cases involving fraud and abuse to law enforcement.  Several cases brought against dentists for defrauding Aetna and other private payors include the following:

Virginia.  In this case, a Virginia dentist was sentenced to 25 months in prison for illegally dispensing controlled substances and for using the identity of another dentist to fraudulently bill Aetna for more than $160,000 in dental services he provided to family members.

Virginia.  In this case, the owner / operator of a dental practice was sentenced to 30 months in prison for defrauding Medicaid and four dental insurers of approximately $783,000.  In this case, the defendant dentist’s fraud scheme included:  (1) the fraudulent billing of dental services to Medicaid and other payors for dental services that were never rendered, some of which were billed while the dentist was out of the country; (2) the improper use of incorrect CDT billing codes that resulted in higher bills than were justified by the actual dental services provided; (3) the fraudulent “backdating” of dental services in an effort to have certain dental services covered by the insurance payor AFTER the patient’s insurance coverage had been terminated.

New Jersey.  In this case, a New Jersey dentist pleaded guilty to theft after fraudulently altering the dates of service when dental work for provided. The dentist admitted that he had falsified the dates of service in an effort to avoid contractual date restrictions set out in the patient’s dental insurance policies.  After pleading guilty, he faced up to five years in state prison.

III.  How Are Dentists and Their Practices Targeted by Aetna’s SIU?

Aetna SIU reviews and audits of dental claims can arise in a number of ways.  In most cases, Aetna’s SIU identifies audit target based solely on the results of data-mining, without anyone actually taking the time to review any of your dental practice’s patient records.  This type of review examines the CDT coding and billing information submitted by the dental practice and takes into account the provider’s billing patterns and those of his or her peers and other dental providers.  Once a target is identified, Aetna’s SIU will normally advise a dental practice that a review of relevant patient dental records is necessary in order to determine whether or not an overpayment exists. In addition to data-mining, Aetna’s SIU may also initiate an audit based on:

  • A prior history of alleged overpayments.
  • An adverse report filed against a dental professional on the NPDB.
  • Complaints from beneficiaries and their families.
  • Actions taken by State Dental Boards.
  • Actions taken by Federal and / or State prosecutors and regulators.

When Aetna’s SIU suspects that a dental provider is committing fraud, it will generally contact one or more of the dentist’s Aetna patients to confirm whether certain dental services were actually rendered.  Many of our clients first heard that Aetna was conducting an audit of their claims from one of the practice’s patients.

IV. Examples of Improper Dental Coding and Billing Practices:

Examples of improper claims cited by Aetna SIU investigators have included:

  • Billing for dental services that are not considered medically necessary after reviewing the beneficiary’s dental records.
  • Billing for radiographs when no record of the x-rays can be produced.
  • Billing for dental services that have been based on radiographs when a review of the x-rays does not show that the services were medically necessary.
  • Billing for dental services that are not covered due to contractual date restrictions.
  • Billing for dental services under the identity of a credentialed dentists when, in fact, the dental services were provided by a non-credentialed dentist.
  • Billing for dental services that were not provided.
  • Billing for dental services that qualify for coverage, when other non-covered dental services were actually provided.
  • Failure to collect contractually required co-payments and deductibles from patients.
  • Claims that are submitted with falsified dates of services in order to avoid denial because the services were provided after a patient’s period of coverage.
  • Improper unbundling of claims for dental services that are supposed to be billed together.

V. Steps That You Can Take to Reduce Your Level of Risk:

As with any payor, it is essential that dentists and dental practices submitting claims to Aetna for coverage and payment take the time to review the terms of their participation agreement and understand the specific contractual limitations that may apply to a specific beneficiary’s plan.  In recent years, compliance plans have become an essential program integrity tool utilized by dentists and dental practices.  Compliance programs aimed at reducing, preventing, and deterring fraudulent and improper conduct are at the forefront of the health care industry’s goals.  These programs can also benefit dental practices by helping them avoid costly litigation and by streamlining their business operations.  Additional benefits of implementing a compliance program include:

  • Proactive approach.  A compliance program is a proactive way to make sure that your dental practice is meeting all ofits statutory and regulatory obligations.
  • Evidence of good faith.  The existence of a compliance program serves as evidence of a good faith effort to comply with the law in the event your dental practice becomes the subject of an investigation.
  • Sentencing guidelines.  In the event of criminal prosecution, the existence of a compliance plan is favorably considered under the sentencing guidelines.  Your dental practice and its staff will also likely benefit from its compliance efforts if civil or administrative proceedings are pursued by the government or private payors such as Aetna.
  • Minimize mistakes. An effective compliance program can speed-up and optimize the proper payment of your dental claims.  It can also minimize the likelihood that you will submit incorrect dental claims to insurance companies for payment.

VI. Conclusion:

If your dental practice is audited by Aetna or another payor, it is important that you contact qualified health law counsel before you respond to the payor’s request for documentation.  You need to put your best foot forward when responding to an audit.  We can assist you in that regard.

The attorneys at Liles Parker have extensive experience representing dentists and dental practices in connection with dental claims audits.  Notably, the attorneys working on your dental case are also Certified Professional Coders and have successfully passed the certification exam of the American Association of Professional Coders.

Robert Liles Healthcare LawyerRobert W. Liles serves as Managing Partner at the health law firm, Liles Parker, Attorneys and Counselors at Law.  Liles Parker attorneys represent health care providers and suppliers around the country in connection with UPIC audits, OIG audits and DOJ investigations of Medicare and Medicaid claims.  He also advises health care providers in connection with private payor audits of billed services. Are you currently being audited or under investigation?  We can help.  For a free initial consultation regarding your situation, call Robert at:  1 (800) 475-1906

[1] Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, “Current Status of State Medicaid Expansion Decisions,” as of December 28, 2018.

[2] ADA Health Policy Institute, Dental Benefits Coverage in the U.S.

[3] Aetna Facts, can be found at:  https://www.aetna.com/about-us/aetna-facts-and-subsidiaries/aetna-facts.html

[4] The types of actions that must be reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank are quite extensive.  Notably, reportable actions are limited to allegations of malpractice.  A wide scope of other adverse actions against a professional licensee (such as a dentist) must also be reported.

Dental Claims Audits are on the Rise

December 18, 2017 by  
Filed under Dental Audits & Compliance

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Dental Claims Audits

Both Medicaid and private payor dental claims audits are increasing around the country.

(December 18, 2017):  As you may recall, in July 2017, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), conducted the largest ever health care fraud enforcement action ever held on a single day. Two of the health care professionals arrested during this national “Takedown” were Michigan dentists, both of whom were alleged to have billed Medicaid for services not rendered. Unfortunately, as we will discuss in this article, examples of dental claims audits, investigations and prosecutions have become quite common.

In October 2017, Michigan’s Attorney General announced that his office had successfully apprehended a fugitive dentist that had been convicted in May 2017 of twenty counts of Medicaid fraud, six counts of health care fraud, and one count of racketeering.  These incidents of fraud first arose after the dentist was “excluded” from participation in the Medicaid program in 2006. To get around the exclusion, he allegedly provided dental services to Medicaid beneficiaries and billed for his services under the identifying information of another dentist.  Before he could be taken into custody, the defendant apparently fled to the Dominican Republic.  He was captured by officials of the U.S. Marshal’s Service last October.

If you think that this is an isolated story about a sensational dental fraud case, think again. Just last week, the local news in Anchorage, Alaska spotlighted the fact that a local dentist who had been charged with Medicaid fraud was back in court.  As the television anchor reminded her audience, this story first made national headlines after a video surfaced which showed the dentist allegedly performing a dental procedure on a sedated patient,[1] while on a hoverboard.

Has there been a change in law enforcement’s focus with respect to dental providers?  Is your practice now more at risk of a dental claims audit than ever before?  These are the questions we will look at in this article.

I. Background – Insurance Coverage of Dental Services.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) estimates that in 2016, health care spending increased 4.3% and cost approximately $3.3 trillion.  Notably, approximately 4% of this $3.3 trillion was spent on dental services. The amount of money spent on dental services is more than what is spent on home health services and more than twice what is spent on durable medical equipment each year.

Based on spending alone, you would think that law enforcement would have dedicated significant investigation and prosecution resources to this specialty area long ago.  In years past that hasn’t been the case, likely due to the fact that most dental services are not covered under Medicare. As Section 1862 (a)(12) of the Social Security Act provides:

“(a) Notwithstanding any other provision of this title, no payment may be made under part A or part B for any expenses incurred for items or services

(12) where such expenses are for services in connection with the care, treatment, filling, removal, or replacement of teeth or structures directly supporting teeth, except that payment may be made under part A in the case of inpatient hospital services in connection with the provision of such dental services if the individual, because of his underlying medical condition and clinical status or because of the severity of the dental procedure, requires hospitalization in connection with the provision of such services.” (emphasis added).

While eligible Medicaid beneficiaries do, in fact, generally qualify for certain dental program services, both the individuals who qualify for coverage and the types of dental services under each program vary from state to state.  Although the government-funded dental programs in each of these states may have unique coverage provisions, both law enforcement and Special Investigative Units (SIUs) working for private payors have successfully identified a number of common improper practices and schemes conducted by dental professionals.

II.  Recent Dental Improper Billing Practices Pursued by the Government.

To begin, what is “Fraud”? Importantly, it is defined by regulation.  As 42 C.F.R. §433.304 provides, Fraud is “(in accordance with §455.2) . . . an intentional deception or misrepresentation made by a person with knowledge that the deception could result in some unauthorized benefit to himself or some other person. This includes any act that constitutes fraud under applicable Federal of State law.”

In contrast, Abuse is defined at 42 C.F.R. §455.2 as “provider practices that are inconsistent with sound fiscal, business, or medical practices, and result in an unnecessary cost to the Medicaid program, or in reimbursement for services that are not medically necessary or that fail to meet professionally recognized standards for health care. It also includes beneficiary practices that result in unnecessary cost to the Medicaid program.”

Collectively, both fraudulent and abusive billing dental care practices are illegal and may subject a dental provider to administrative, civil and / or criminal sanctions, fines, penalties and damages.  The level of exposure faced is very fact-specific and will vary, depending on the specific dental program that has been defrauded, the conduct alleged and types of damages incurred by the payors and the beneficiaries.

When reviewing the various “schemes” used when committing fraud, it is important to keep in mind that most health care providers, including dental professionals, who engage in wrongdoing, do not merely employ only a single improper billing practice.  As the Government Accounting Office (GAO) found in its study on common Federal health care fraud schemes:

“About 68 percent of the cases included more than one scheme with 61 percent including two to four schemes and 7 percent including five or more schemes.”

Why is this important to know?  Well, when your dental claims are audited (and at some point in the future, your practice will be subjected to a dental claims audit), you need to keep in mind that the reviewers will be taking a broad look at your business referrals, quality of care, documentation, coding, billing and licensure practices.  Each of these areas are likely to be audited even though your audit may have been triggered by a patient complaint regarding a specific service or because you were an outlier with respect to the number of CDT D0210 – Intraoral Complete Film Series procedures you billed to a payor.  Although not by any means all-inclusive, a number of the improper billing practices we have recently seen in government and / or private payor dental audits and investigations have included the following:

1.  Billing for dental services not rendered. While the vast majority of dental professionals work hard to ensure that their billing practices are both fair and accurate, when fraudulent billing does occur, this is often one of the forms it takes. Unfortunately, this type of dental fraud is still relatively common in cases prosecuted by both Federal and State law enforcement authorities.  Moreover, private payor SIUs have routinely identified this in cases they have brought against dental providers.  From a provider standpoint, at first glance, it may appear to be easy to successfully “get away” with this type of fraud.  Frankly, how many patients have any idea what dental procedures have been performed in their mouths? Many patients are sedated when the work is performed.  Even if they are awake, it is highly unlikely that they will know the difference between a costly dental procedure and one that is much less costly.  For a dentist to adopt this attitude would be a serious mistake.  It is essential to keep in mind that there are no more secrets.  What do I mean by this? Your actual dental practices can be determined in a variety of ways:

A.  Audits based on data-mining. The level of coordination and communication between Federal law enforcement investigators, State Medicaid Fraud Control Units (MFCUs) and private payors’ SIUs has grown to the point that they are now extraordinarily effective at sharing information regarding ongoing provider investigations, provider utilization practices, and emerging fraud schemes. Through data mining, they can tell with a high degree of accuracy how long it should take for you to perform all of the dental services you billed in a single day. They will also compare your billing patterns to those of your peers.  If any of your billing practices or patterns appear to be irregular, they will initiate an audit.

B.  Complaints. If you are billing the Medicaid program for services not rendered, you are placing both your financial livelihood in jeopardy and your personal liberty at risk. Under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), if you fail to report and return an overpayment within 60 days, you are liable for damages and penalties under the Civil False Claims Act (FCA).  The FCA has special “whistleblower” provisions that allow an individual to essentially step into the shoes of the government and file a case under seal against a wrongdoer. If the government intervenes and there is a settlement, the whistleblower can receive between 15% and 25% of the recovery.  Essentially, this statute makes virtually every one of your employees a potential whistleblower.  If you engage in improper Medicaid billing practices, one of them will eventually identify the wrongful conduct.  Do you want to take risk?  To make matters worse, the government is not restricted to only pursuing such a case under the civil False Claims Act.  Depending on the facts, the government could also pursue the case criminally under 18 U.S.C. §1347 – Health Care Fraud or under 18 U.S.C. §669 – Theft of Embezzlement in Connection with Health Care.

Before moving on to the next category, it is worth noting that some incidents of “billing for services not rendered” may be inadvertent.  For instance, if a patient comes in for a dental service that requires the performance of a multi-stage procedure (such as a crown, dentures or a root canal), most dental plans will not allow you to bill for the procedure until the date that the final stage of the multi-stage procedure is completed.  It is important that you train your billing staff to check each payor plan prior to billing so that multi-stage procedures are billed in accordance with the requirements of each particular payor.  If you aren’t sure how a payor treats such a situation, call the payor prior to billing the procedure or fully disclose the status of the stage of the procedure when you submit the claim.

2.  Misrepresentation of a non-covered service. In some respects, this improper practice is nothing more than another form of “billing for services not rendered.” Simply put, in the cases we have seen where this has occurred, a dentist or dental practice has either purposely or erroneously characterized a non-covered dental service as a covered service. Keep in mind, the definition of a non-covered service varies from policy to policy. Additionally, the list of non-covered services under a specific policy may change from year-to-year.  In any event, it is important that you regularly check to ensure that the services you are providing a patient qualify for coverage and payment.

This is especially critical when a dental provider intends to bill a Medicaid beneficiary for non-covered services. Every Medicaid dental payor plan is different.  You should carefully review your Provider Resource Manual prior to billing a Medicaid beneficiary for a non-covered service.  Most Medicaid payors require that certain admonitions be provided to the patient and that a specific form be completed by the patient. A portion of the form used by Liberty Dental Plan, the administrator for the Medicaid dental plan in Nevada, expressly requires the following notice:

3.  Misrepresentation of the provider of the dental service. This type of billing error is still commonly found in both dental and medical practices around the country. In the cases we have seen, “fraud” wasn’t the reason for the underlying misrepresentation on the ADA Claims form. In most instances, it was a merely a matter of a credentialing delay. In other cases, dental practices appeared to believe that they were permitted to bill for the services under a concept similar to Medicare’s “Incident-To” rule.  We will address each of these misconceptions.

A.  Credentialing delays. Once again, it is essential that you understand the specific requirements under your payor agreement.  For example, you are credentialed by PAYOR A, but you decide to hire another dentist. Until the new dentist completes the credentialing paperwork for PAYOR A, turns it in, and is accepted as a credentialed provider, more than likely you can cannot bill for his services a treating provider.    

Billing Dentist Versus Treating Dentist

As the ADA Dental Claim Form above reflects, there are separate sections for the “Billing Dentist” and the “Treating Dentist.”  The section titled Billing Dentist is meant to provide the individual dentist’s name or the name of the group practice that is responsible for billing. In contrast, the section titled Treating Dentist is meant to provide the name of the dentist who actually provided the dental services to the beneficiary, within the scope of his / her state licensure.

Unfortunately, we have seen situations where billing staff in offices were unaware of these rules.  Since the actual treating dentist was not credentialed by a payor, they billed the services under the name and number of a dentist that was, in fact, credentialed by the payor.  As you can imagine, with only a rudimentary review of a dentist’s services in a data-mining review, an auditor is likely to quickly determine that a problem exists.  Depending on the payor and the specific facts in the case, a dental practice may be terminated from participation in the plan and may have to repay a significant overpayment to the payor.  Both dentists involved in the misrepresentation may be referred to the State Dental Board for unprofessional conduct.

Although we have not seen a dental misrepresentation case of this type referred for criminal prosecution, it is important to remember that the ADA Dental Claims form is being electronically submitted to the health plan for payment.  Depending on the facts, an aggressive prosecutor could argue that such conduct constitutes wire fraud. 18 U.S.C. §1343.

B.  “Incident-To” billing. Many medical practices have a distinct billing advantage over dental practices when it comes to the billing of a newly-hired physician’s services. Although every payor’s rules are different, many payors (including Medicare) recognize a billing concept known as “Incident-To.”  If a payor recognizes incident-to, then it would be permissible bill the services of a newly hired physician under the number of an already credentialed supervising physician, as long as certain conditions are met. For instance, if “Direct Supervision” is required, this level of supervision has been defined by regulation to mean that:

42 CFR 410.32(3)(ii) Direct supervision in the office setting means the physician must be present in the office suite and immediately available to furnish assistance and direction throughout the performance of the procedure. It does not mean that the physician must be present in the room when the procedure is performed.”From a practical standpoint, there is no reason why this concept wouldn’t work in a dental practice setting.  However, we have not found a similar provision incorporated in State Medicaid regulations or in State Medicaid Provider Manuals.   Nor have we found it to be permitted by private payor dental plans.  Therefore, we strongly recommend that you do not bill incident-to in the absence of express guidance from your payor that it is permissible to do so.  Instead, take steps to ensure that your dentists and auxiliary staff are credentialed as soon as possible after entering on duty with your practice.

4.  Waiving or Failing to Collect Co-Payments and Deductibles. At the outset, it is worth noting that the ADA Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct specifically addresses the waiver of co-payment issue in its November 2016 edition:

“5.B.1. WAIVER OF COPAYMENT. A dentist who accepts a third party payment under a copayment plan as payment in full without disclosing to the third party that the patient’s payment portion will not be collected, is engaged in overbilling. The essence of this ethical impropriety is deception and misrepresentation; an overbilling dentist makes it appear to the third party that the charge to the patient for services rendered is higher than it actually is.”

The ADA guidance does not make a distinction between whether a dental provider is an in-network or out-of-network participating provider.  If your practice is a participating provider, your improper waiver of a patient’s co-payment or deductible would also constitute a breach of contract.

Under appropriate circumstances, a health care provider may waive a Medicare co-payment or deductible if a patient can show a bona fide financial hardship.[2]  However, care must be taken when waiving these amounts. The improper waiver of a Medicare co-payment or deductible could constitute a violation of the Federal Medicare / Medicaid Anti-Kickback Statute, and expose you and your practice to potential criminal liability. (See HHS-OIG’s 1994 Fraud Alert).

5.  Unlicensed individuals found to have performed dental procedures. Generally speaking, we have seen two categories of cases where this has occurred, one which is truly egregious and one that was the result of an administrative error.  Each of these situations are discussed below:

A.  Allowing unlicensed staff to provide care. Perhaps the quickest way to get into trouble with both law enforcement and your State Dental Board is to allow non-licensed individuals provide dental care that may only be administered by qualified, licensed personnel. Earlier this year, the New York Attorney General’s Office announced the indictment, arrest and arraignment of a dentist and four unlicensed individuals that the dentist was permitting to perform dental procedures on 110 Medicaid recipients. As the Attorney General was quoted as saying “New York has strong licensing requirements for healthcare, and those who think they can skirt these important safety rules will be held accountable.”

Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence, despite the fact that virtually every state Dental Practice Act has strict requirements governing both the level of supervision that must be exercised over subordinate staff and which tasks may not be delegated to unlicensed personnel.

B.  Unlicensed personnel providing care as a result of an administrative error. This typically occurs when a licensee fails to pay their annual licensing fees in a timely fashion or fails to complete mandatory Continuing Dental Education (CDE) required by their State Dental Board. If you are performing dental procedures and your license has been administratively suspended, a reviewer will still deny each of the claims where you are listed as the treating dentist.

6. Unbundling. Fundamentally, when a health a care provider engages in “unbundling,” he / she takes a global code and breaks it down into its fundamental parts for billing purposes.  The billing of the separate components then yields more than the billing of the single global code.  For instance, in some States, the Medicaid dental coverage and payment rules in place require that cleanings, x-rays, and examinations be billed as part of a single visit.  Similarly, some State Medicaid dental coverage payment rules require that x-rays, oral / facial images, and pre-orthodontic visits be billed as part of a comprehensive orthodontic code.[3]

7. Upcoding. Billing for a dental service or procedure at a higher level than was actually provided is known as “upcoding.” An example of upcoding is illustrated by the August 2017 prosecution of a dentist out of Charleston, West Virginia who pleaded guilty to upcoding. According to the government, the defendant falsely billed Medicaid and its Managed Care Organizations (MCOs) for complex dental procedures (such as the extraction of impacted teeth), when in fact, he actually performed simple extractions.  As a result of this false reporting, Medicaid and its MCOs paid the defendant dentist $172 per extraction of each tooth, rather than $80 per tooth for a simple extraction. The dentist further admitted that he falsely upcoded at least 7,490 tooth extractions, billing more than $1.3 million for those procedures. He further admitted that if those extractions were medically necessary, and if had actually performed the procedures he claimed, then he should have been paid only $599,200.

III.  Don’t Wait Until You Are Facing a Dental Claims Audits – Review Your Practices Now!

Do you have an effective compliance program in place?  How would respond to the following questions?

  • When was the last time you conducted an internal dental claims audit and examined whether the services you are providing fully reflect medical necessity requirements, are documented to meet the requirements of the payor, and are properly coded and billed? What did you find?  Who conducted the audit, someone from your dental practice, or an outside dental consultant?  Be sure and engage any outside dental consultant through legal counsel.  Keep in mind, this is not a paper exercise.  If legal counsel is not fully engaged and is not supervising the work, it is doubtful that the result of any review will be privileged.  As a final point in this regard, keep in mind that any overpayments identified must be paid back, regardless of whether the results of the dental claims audit qualify as privileged.
  • When was the last time you conducted an audit of your dental business practices? Are your practices free of any possible violations of the False Claims Act or Anti-Kickback Statutes?
  • Have you fully implemented each of your obligations under HIPAA and HITECH? If subjected to an unannounced audit by the Office of Civil Rights or one of its contractors (yes, this can occur), will you be able to show that you are in compliance with all required security, privacy and technical mandates under HIPAA / HITECH?
  • Do you have an effective anonymous compliance reporting mechanism in place? Have you advised and trained your dental practice staff on their obligations to report improper billings or conduct to your practice’s Compliance Officer?
  • Are you screening your dental practice employees, contractors, vendors and contractors through all Federal and State exclusion databases?

Working through these steps (and others), can greatly reduce your overall level of regulatory risk and can assist your practice in implementing an effective compliance program. Need help?  Give us a call.  Our attorneys represent dental practices in both Medicaid and private payor dental audits.  Moreover, we can assist you in assessing your current level of compliance so that you will be better prepared if your practice is audited in the future.

Robert W. Liles Healthcare LawyerRobert W. Liles serves as Managing Partner at the health care law firm Liles Parker, PLLC.  Our attorneys represent dentists and dental practices around the country in connection with Medicaid audits, private payor audits and State Dental Board actions.  For a complimentary consultation, please give us a call.  We can be reached at: 1 (800) 475-1906.

 

[1] As the reported notes, the defendant allegedly took in 31% of the state’s total Medicaid payments for IV sedation in 2016. Although not discussed, this very well may be how he was identified as a potential target – through data mining.

[2] A copayment waiver based on financial hardship is prohibited if it is not supported by a “good faith” assessment of the individual beneficiary’s financial need. Special Fraud Alert, 59 Fed. Reg. 65372-01, at 65375; 42 U.S.C. § 1320a-7a(i)(6); 42 C.F.R. § 1003.101. The “[r]outine use of ‘Financial hardship’ forms which state that the beneficiary is unable to pay the coinsurance” is insufficient. Special Fraud Alert, 59 Fed. Reg. 65372-01, at 65375.; A copayment waiver based on a failure to collect is prohibited if it is not preceded by a “good faith” collection effort. Special Fraud Alert, 59 Fed. Reg. 65372-01, at 65375; 42 U.S.C. § 1320a-7a(i)(6); 42 C.F.R. § 1003.101. The collection effort must be more than “token” and must be similar to efforts made to collect comparable amounts from non-Medicare patients. Medicare Claims Processing Manual, Ch. 23, § 80.8.1.

[3] Medicaid Compliance for the Dental Professional – Presentation http://www.ada.org/en/~/media/ADA/Public%20Programs/Files/Medicaid_Compliance_for_the_Dental_Professional